Arts·Art Apart

COVID-19 cancelled dating — so what makes this radio sex show so timely?

Broadcast live from a real campus station, Talk to Me is about fun and joy...and love at a safe distance.

Broadcast live from a real campus station, Talk to Me is about fun and joy...and love at a safe distance

(L-R) Ebony Hatzistamatis and Landon Krentz star in the ASL performance of Talk to Me. It will be simulcast with an audio version of the show on Wednesday, June 10. (Landon Krentz/Facebook)

The new class of Canadian theatre-makers might be stuck at home like the rest of us, but the COVID-19 crisis won't stop them from doing what they love. So when the pandemic struck, the National Theatre School launched Art Apart. Its mission: support projects by emerging artists. Some 100 applicants from across the country have already received a $750 grant from Art Apart. And now, their shows are ready for an audience. Every week, CBC Arts will put the spotlight on one of these original works.

Artists: Cellar Door Project

Homebase: Kingston, Ont.

Project: Talk to Me

It's a radio play about a radio show. And on Wednesday night, it'll take over the actual airwaves of CRFC 101.9 FM in Kingston, Ont. 

The show's called Talk to Me, and it's the latest production from Cellar Door Project. A site-specific theatre company, they've done shows in cemeteries, dive bars and jails. This time, of course, the setting's a broadcast booth, and the play itself runs like a classic call-in show.

Not a literal call-in show, to be fair. (Sorry, no audience participation required.) But Sean Meldrum (who wrote the script) and Mariah Horner (who doubles as the show's producer) play the hosts. An ASL version, starring Ebony Gooden and Landon Krentz, will be livestreamed simultaneously through the Folda Festival. (Read more about their programming in this week's virtual arts listings.) Wednesday, folks can tune in to hear them dole out sex and relationship advice ... until the evening takes an unexpected turn. 

The format's a bit of a throwback. This is 2020, after all — the year that outlawed make-outs. But with the support of Art Apart, the show was written this spring. Set in the "before times," it's not a show about the pandemic, per se. But according to director Wallis Caldoza, creating a radio play with a sense of "joy and fun" was a timely and deliberate move. It's a medium with a long history of connecting listeners over great, expansive distance. And CRFC happens to be the oldest campus radio station in the world.

She talked to us about Talk to Me

This is where the lo-fi magic happens. (Mariah Horner)

Tell me about the show! What's it about?

Well, the nice, neat tagline we've got is that it's about exploring intimacy while being apart. 

Sean came up with the conceit: there's a radio show about sex and dating and relationships and it's hosted by two students at Queens on CRFC radio, which we've partnered with.

So on this particular episode, four different people call in with the usual kind of sex and dating advice that the show would usually get in this imaginary world. The final caller suggests that maybe there's a little bit something more between our two co-hosts, and that kind of causes — well, pretty much the rest of the play (laughs).

Why frame the play as a sex-advice call-in show? Where did that idea come from?

We were thinking and talking about how much we missed the whole "physical presence" thing. I think we were all planning to write from the perspective of individuals from around our demographic. I want to say young adulthood — like that time when you're coming into yourself, I suppose.

It just made sense to start writing about love and joy and dating and sex and relationships. At the beginning of the pandemic, I think there were a slew of very good memes on Twitter about missing out on opportunities to date and get close to one another (laughs). It just felt like a nice opportunity to be a little bit cheeky and have fun with that idea, but also really celebrate that intrinsic necessity of connection. I think it's important at this time. 

It ended up being based on a lot of kind of autobiographical things because the show takes place at Queen's University, where we're all alum. 

When is it set?

It's set, technically speaking, in 2019. But it's funny — it still has this [timely] context, with it being performed in 2020. Time is a little bit fluid in the piece. There are moments where we make references to the Raptors, or very specific things that happened in 2019.

Things like dating! The show's almost a time capsule.

(laughs) It's a year ago, but it feels even longer now. I've lost track of how time works!

It's interesting to see what has changed. What do we still consider precious? What do we want back? 

How has your experience developing this project compared to the theatre work you were doing pre-COVID?

I remember when Mariah, Sean and I first came together to work on the project, we weren't sure, exactly, what the piece was going to be. Part of the impetus was trying to not talk about the pandemic directly. But, I mean, it was inevitable we were going to address it in some way, shape or form, because it's informing all of our practices. To loop back to your question slightly, I think it's been a lesson in adaptability. 

Obviously, we weren't in the same physical space. We have to kind of figure that out, and that's explored in the piece itself: how we can be intimate and close with one another while practicing safe social distancing.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Talk to Me. Featuring Mariah Horner, Sean Meldrum, Erica Hill, Simon Gagnon, Dhanish Chinniah, Maleeka Thaker. Written by Sean Meldrum. Directed by Wallis Caldoza. Produced by Cellar Door Project. Presented by Folda. Wednesday, June 10 at 9 p.m. ET. Tune in to hear the show live on CFRC 101.9 FM or watch the performance on Facebook (Folda, Banff Centre) or www.folda.ca. After the show, audio will be available on-demand at cfrc.ca.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now